Hoffman's Padres career got off to rocky start
After coming over in fire sale, fans took time to warm to legend
SAN DIEGO -- Before he established himself as a fan favorite and a trustworthy closer, one who now boasts Hall of Fame credentials, Trevor Hoffman was an innocent party -- and an easy target -- from the Padres' infamous fire sale of 1993.
Ordered to shed payroll by owner Tom Werner, general manager Randy Smith -- just 15 days on the job, and at 29 years old, the youngest general manager in baseball -- targeted Hoffman when he pitched a trade to the Marlins, offering an on-the-cusp-of-greatness third baseman, 24-year-old Gary Sheffield.
Making the deal wasn't easy, as Smith surprisingly found few serious suitors. Making matters even worse, of course, was the feedback he received from fans. They obviously didn't take kindly to trading away Sheffield, who knocked in 100 runs in 1992 or, just one month later, the deal that sent first baseman Fred McGriff packing.
"We were looking for low-salary, limited-experience guys and we couldn't take on any payroll at all," said Smith, now the Padres' director of player development. "Part of the problem, though, was everyone in the industry knew we were dumping salary."
The immediate fallout from the Sheffield trade was universally consistent; try pure and unadulterated vitriol from fans. Smith heard it and so did Hoffman, who was greeted by something much uglier than "Hells Bells" when he was summoned to pitch that summer.
"It was brutal -- we got crushed," Smith said. "There was an outrage in San Diego. ... Both of us weren't too popular. But we forged a fast friendship as we both tried to punch our way out together."
Hoffman did so with his strong right arm, and look where it got him -- a near-certain trip to Cooperstown after a career that officially ended Tuesday, when he announced he was retiring with a Major League-record 601 saves, 552 of them coming during his 16-year run with the Padres.
"I was hoping that he could become a future closer," Smith said. "But I wasn't counting on Trevor getting 600 saves."
Officially, Hoffman and pitcher Andres Berumen, who appeared in 40 games over two seasons with the Padres, were traded from the Marlins on June 24 of that summer. The deal came together relatively fast. The Marlins were in their first year of existence and wanted to build around Sheffield.
San Diego, which also shipped pitcher Rich Rodriguez to Florida, targeted Hoffman all along. Hoffman, who made the conversion from light-hitting Minor League shortstop while in the Reds system in 1990, had a 3.28 ERA in 28 games with the Marlins before the trade.
What did Smith see in Hoffman?
"I saw him in college as a position player when I was with the Rockies," Smith said. "You could see that arm strength was there after the [position] conversion. We felt we were getting an athlete who had good makeup and a power arm.
"He was the key in the deal from our end. I just didn't think that 18 years later that we would still be talking about him."
In his first game with the Padres, Hoffman allowed two earned runs against the Reds, the organization that drafted him. In fact, Hoffman allowed at least one run in each of his first four games, including a disastrous outing on June 29 against the Cubs, when he allowed three runs on four hits without retiring a single batter.
"It wasn't easy," Smith said. "But we felt confident we were putting the pieces together. It was a tough summer for all of us. But it got better in '94 and '95 when we went out and got [Ken Caminiti] and [Steve] Finley. Things started to turn around."
By 1998, Caminiti, Finley, Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn and Hoffman, who led the Major Leagues with 53 saves, formed the nucleus of a team that won 98 games and advanced to the World Series, where the Padres lost to the Yankees.